An education in the arts helps to develop the imagination and enrich your child’s creative potential. It encourages a positive approach to life and helps children understand that the world is full of wonderful things. Children who feel more able to express themselves face a lower risk of mental illness and are more likely to become happy, confident adults. Art can also be a route to increasing empathy, helping to build social skills. What can you do to help your child engage with all this and discover a passion for creativity?
Get creative at home
It’s never too early to get children interested in the arts. As soon as they can see, babies are attracted to bright colours and strong geometric shapes. They quickly learn to take an interest in television and age-appropriate entertainment such as puppet shows (just as good when performed by parents) and dressing up. By the age of six months, they’re ready to enjoy closely supervised play with crayons and even watercolour paints, and by two they should be able to produce recognisable shapes such as faces.
The more time that you spend with them on activities like these, the faster they’ll learn, and this will also help to develop their understanding of the world around them. Discovering that it’s fun to pretend isn’t just a first step towards acting, but it’s also a step towards realising that other people have their own distinct emotions and personalities. Colouring in the background of a picture instead of just painting a blue line at the top to represent the sky helps to develop spatial awareness. There’s even some evidence that early experiments with music help mathematical skills to develop.
Support creativity at school
Today’s schools try harder than ever to bring out children’s creativity, but they often struggle due to a shortage of resources. You can help by making financial donations or by providing hands-on support. For instance, you could donate old clothes or the contents of your scraps basket and help children turn these into costumes for a school play. You could save up scraps of shiny foil from food wrapping, clean them as required, and supply them to your child’s school for use in craft projects.
If you have a particular artistic skill to share, you could even volunteer to go into your local school and help out with an art, drama or music class, or partner with an enthusiastic teacher to provide an after-school session. This kind of focused support can really help to draw out children’s talents.
Discovering the arts together
In most of Britain’s cities, there’s a wealth of art treasures just waiting to be discovered. Take your child to local museums and art galleries, most of which are free to access. Go along to reduced-rate matinee performances of plays, concerts and films at the weekends. Go to pantomimes that give children a chance to get up on the stage. Check out local festivals for opportunities to meet creative talent and help your child get more directly involved. Listen to your children when they tell you what they enjoy most and what they’d like to do more of.
Projects like this often struggle due to lack of funds, but the National Funding Scheme is now helping by making it easy for people to donate to almost any arts organisation at any time. It lets you put an app on your phone that you can use to donate what you can afford when you see something impressive – and if you want to help support these resources for your children and others, it’s worth telling your friends about.
If your child has a particular passion and some degree of talent, private lessons can be a wonderful way to develop it. If you can’t afford to pay for them yourself, you may be able to get your child sponsored – talk to the school to see if they’re aware of any such opportunities in the area. Alternatively, you can encourage your child to develop those skills using free tutorial videos available online. Your job will then be to make sure that exercises get done and that the recommended amount of practice actually happens.
Opportunities in the community
There are always opportunities to develop artistic talent within the wider community. Old people’s homes, for instance, often welcome contributions of artwork created by local children or are happy to let young musicians perform for them. There may be an amateur dramatics group in your area with room for a child performer, and local filmmakers may be happy to let your child perform in front of a camera or even provide lessons in how to handle technical equipment. Whatever direction your child chooses to pursue, you’ll need to be there to provide support, but in return you’ll get to see that talent flourish.
Helping your children to engage with the arts gives them a joyous experience that little else can match, and it may help them go on to become adults who can inspire a sense of wonder in others.